|Vol. 7, No. 3, May - June 1978
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"My cup runneth over" (Psalm 23:5)
THIS psalm is full of references to "me" and "my", so that at first sight
it may appear that its author was self-centred. A compensating fact, however,
is that it is also full of references to God; it begins and ends with His
personal name, The LORD. The real truth about David is that he was God-centred.
While his psalm is intensely personal it is in no way selfish. As we look
at it more closely we find that it contains a phrase which is really the
secret of all spiritual helpfulness to others: "My cup runneth over". All
the personal concern and experience is well justified if it results in an
overflowing of blessing to others. Put the other way round, there can be no
overflowing blessings from my life unless I am living in the good of a close
and satisfying walk with God. Men are not blessed by my attempts to help
them, or by my sermonising to them: they are only truly blessed when they
meet me brimming over with a vital knowledge of the Lord.
My cup runs over. This is an impressive claim for David to make. What
it amounts to is that whenever and wherever men meet me, they are affected
by the spiritual overflow of God's goodness from my life. In myself I am
no more than an empty cup, but as I feed in God's green pastures, find refreshment
in the still waters of communion with Him and even suffer those valley experiences
of deep shadows under His hand, there flows out, often unconsciously to me,
a life-giving stream of His fullness. This is my ministry. It is an overflow.
What is more, it is a continuous overflow. This is a tremendous claim, and
it may be worth our while to examine it in order to discover if it worked
out like that in his history. Were these just exuberant poetic fancies,
or were they substantial facts borne out in his experience?
1. David's Overflowing Cup
The song itself provides an answer, for Psalm 23 has been an inspired
source of comfort throughout the centuries. It has overflowed even to us.
If the sweet psalmist of Israel had only written this, his words would have
been an amazing ministry of life and refreshment to millions. But he did
write many more. His walk with God gave him so much of spiritual blessing
to share with others that his psalms are an outstanding contribution to God's
Book. And it was not his successes but his sufferings -- and even his sins
-- which provided the occasion for this living ministry of helpfulness. He
opened his heart so fully to God's loving kindness and tender mercies that
their rich plenty has overflowed to many other sufferers and sinners. David
did not enter into forceful arguments about God's plan of salvation; he so
lived and spoke that men met the Saviour Himself by observing and listening
to him. Why should not our cup overflow in the same way?
David did not only speak of mercy; he practised it. Those were harsh
days when men tended to be ruthless with their foes, but he steadfastly
refused to lift a finger against his arch-enemy, Saul. When at last Saul's
misspent life came to its tragic end, David had no word of spite to say
about him but rather concentrated on what had been good. What is more, in
the days of his own prosperity as king he took real pains to discover a grandson
who had survived, and gave him a place among his own royal sons. He overflowed
in kindness to the third generation of his enemy, giving his personal command
that Mephibosheth should eat continually at the king's table (2 Samuel 9:13).
To this rather pathetic remnant of Saul's family, David overflowed with practical
And what shall we say of David's bountiful provision for God's house?
If ever David's cup overflowed with bounty if was in connection with the
building of the Temple. His giving was not in measured droplets but in generous
outpouring. When the site was first purchased, the owner offered to make
a free gift of it together with the relevant provision for sacrifice. His
offer was set aside. "And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily
buy it for the full price: for I will not ... offer a burnt offering without
cost" (1 Chronicles 21:24). Sometimes the very free nature of redemption
leads God's people to want the best spiritually at the minimum cost to themselves.
They seek the inflow into their cup and fail to think in terms of outflow.
David was not like that. [41/42]
Came the time for building and, to his great disappointment, David was
not permitted to have a part in this great work which he had dreamed and
prayed about for so long. Nothing daunted, he gave of his best so that others
might do the work. In handing over the materials which he had amassed for
this project he said: "Moreover also, seeing that I have a treasure of my
own of gold and silver, I give it unto the house of my God, over and above
all that I have prepared" (1 Chronicles 29:3). His was a very different spirit
from that which is often found among Christian workers who resent being replaced
by others and jealously refuse to give assistance to a work if they feel
that they have been overlooked or rejected. In David's case, then, it seems
clear enough that his cup overflowed.
2. Paul's Overflowing Cup
Well, that was the Old Testament. The standard of the New Testament is
the same. "Always abounding in the work of the Lord," Paul wrote, and he
could write it because that was how he lived. There may be no significance
in this, but the fact remains that his name is last on the list of the prominent
leaders in the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1). Barnabas naturally is the first,
for he had been a spiritual father to the church from its early days. Saul
of Tarsus, however, had been the great teacher among them. What is more,
he was the man with the special commission to the nations, already described
as a "chosen vessel" by the risen Lord. Further, he was the one commissioned
to accompany Barnabas to Jerusalem to carry up the church's gift to the needy
saints there. Why, then, does Luke insert three other names between him
and Barnabas? Who were these three? And why was Saul put last on the list?
It may seem trivial to raise such a point, but I have known God's work hindered
and spoiled by just this kind of personal triviality. Happily Paul was not
so affected. He may have been irked by the delay to his world ministry as
they waited there; he could have been slighted as to his personal dignity,
but he overflowed with patience and he overflowed with humility. The churches
of our day could do with similar overflows!
It is difficult to select particular evidences of the overflow of Paul's
cup, for there are so many of them. The Corinthians, who owed everything
to him, turned critically against him, but were only met by his assurance
that in spite of this he would most gladly spend and be spent out for their
souls (2 Corinthians 12:15). The Galatians, whose conversion had been so costly
to him that his experience could only be likened to birth-pangs, were informed
that he repayed their subsequent fickleness by travailing for them all over
again (Galatians 4:19). The overflow of rejoicing in his letter to the Philippians
is well known to us all. Indeed there can be few better examples of an overflowing
cup than that which is everywhere found in the letters which the apostle
wrote from his prison cell.
How we wish that we knew Paul's whole life story. How we would have liked
a third volume from Dr. Luke! Well, we have to be content with what we have.
It is easier to do this when we realise that the book of the Acts leaves
us with the picture of Paul under guard, awaiting trial for his life, rejected
by his Jewish co-religionaries, and yet still brimming over with kingdom
blessings. The last phrase of our English version in Acts 28:31 is really
just one word -- "unhindered" (RSV). There can be no hindrance of the overflow
of blessing from any life which is being continually replenished by God's
3. Christ's Overflowing Cup
Like so many other psalms, this one has a fulfilment in the Lord Jesus
Himself. He is the one who had a table prepared for Him in the presence
of His enemies, who came triumphantly through the valley of the deep darkness
of the cross, and who is anointed with the oil of joy above His fellows.
And above all others, it is He who can claim to have the overflowing cup.
What was Pentecost but the brimming fullness of His Holy Spirit? His head
was anointed with oil and His cup still runs over to His Church. It is a
continuously present experience -- it keeps on running over. What is more,
it is the Church's vocation to be the vessel through which the overflow pours.
It may be good for our own encouragement to consider a few of the events
in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus which single Him out as the Man of
the Overflowing Cup. Think of the hot noontide by Sychar's well when, in spite
of bodily tiredness and thirst, He overflowed with living water to the astonished
Samaritan woman. Think of His gracious generosity to Peter when
[42/43] He took full cognisance of the way in which the apostle would
deny Him before others and yet assured Peter that He had prayed for Him.
And think of Him in His darkest hour when He was suffering such torments
on the cross. He still had consolation to spare for His earthly mother, which
was wonderful. Much more wonderful, however, was the fact that He had time
and thought for the penitent thief. There in Paradise is a man who has no
questions about whether the cup of Jesus ran over. It overflowed even to
him! It overflowed in spite of the unbearable pressure of evil powers upon
4. The Church's Overflowing Cup
As we have already noted, it is the Church's vocation not only to receive
the overflow of grace but itself to be a vessel from which that brimming
over of blessing is ministered. He who overflowed in the ways we have considered
still waits to overflow through us as we mingle with needy sinners or are
confronted by disappointing brothers. We have our moments of dark trial and
of fierce Satanic assaults when, humanly speaking, we could have neither
time nor strength to think of others. At these very moments the Lord plans
to make our lives opportunities for an overflow of His blessing. We share
His cross: we may share His overflow.
There is of course a secret. There is a sequence in this psalm. The cup
which runs over is the consequence of the sevenfold experience of blessing
which is described as leading up to it. We need to feed in the green pastures
of His Word and to lie down and chew over what we have fed on. We need to
learn the rest of faith as He leads us to the waters. We need to follow Him
as He leads us to the right paths and to come closer to Him as we pass through
the dark valleys as a part of that leading of His. We need to practise the
blessings of the table, which surely are the pursuit of fellowship in Him.
And we need to do this even though surrounded by enemies, not put off by
their threats but rejoicing as those whose heads are anointed with fresh oil
by the Spirit. If we make sure to keep close to the Lord in this way and
to be ever learning more of Him, then the cup will overflow and others will
get the blessing.
This psalm also has a message for under-shepherds. Perhaps we long for
"revival" in our church assembly, but think of this in terms of blessings
sovereignly outpoured from heaven upon us. Might it not be more practical
to work and pray for church members with overflowing cups? If we do so,
we find that we are faced by the shepherd responsibilities of caring for
the flock. When we come to think of this, the risen Lord's charge to Peter
was precisely in this direction. The ministering brothers must see to it
that the flock has green pastures, still waters, right paths, comforting
rod and staff, a full table and anointed minds. The challenge is to us first.
If by the Lord's grace we can make such provision for His people, then ours
will be a Church of the Overflowing Cup.
THE GOINGS OF GOD
(Studies in the book of Exodus)
J. Alec Motyer
4. THE INDWELLING GOD (25:1 - 40:38)
WE now come to the climax of the book of Exodus, the matter of Fellowship
with the Indwelling God. The Redeemer had brought His people by a direct
road to Mount Sinai because He wished to give them direction and guidance
concerning their way of life. God would have His people so live as to show
His image, and it is the law which is the written image of God. This being
so, when the redeemed pattern themselves according to His law, they live in
His likeness, having fellowship with the holy God. We have already seen that
fellowship with this Holy God is always and ever fellowship beneath the blood.
It is impossible here to deal in detail with this long and somewhat complex
passage of Scripture so that we begin by first running through the chapters
to get a glimpse of what they contain:
Chapter 25. At the opening of this chapter we
[43/44] have the command: "Take for me an offering". The purpose
of this offering is the building of what we call The Tabernacle. The divine
motive is stated: "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them"
(v.8). God wants this sanctuary because He wishes to be the Indwelling God,
the God who lives in the midst of His people. Then verse 9 lays down a requirement
which we will find over and over again in these chapters, namely that everything
must be done as God directs. Nothing is to be governed by the whim of man
nor even for his helpfulness, but only by the will of God. Having thus expressed
His wish, God goes on next to speak of the furnishings of this dwelling place.
This is God's order, though it would not be man's. We would start by speaking
of the house and then of the furnishings, but God starts with the furnishings,
"an ark" (v.10), "a table" (v.23) and "a lampstand" (v.31). Please take particular
note of this priority given to the furnishings and that only later are we
given a description of the tent (26:1). The furnishings are not there to
decorate the house, but the tent is there to house the furnishings.
Chapter 26. Here we have the Tabernacle itself with a description
of the curtains (v.7), the boards (v.15), the veil in front of the holiest
of all (v.31) and finally the veil hung at the entrance which is called the
screen of the door" (v.36).
Chapter 27. As we move on we notice that the direction is always
outwards. We pass from the ark and the tent to the altar (v.1) and then to
the courtyard (v.9). Following this we find a description of the ministers
of this dwelling place or tabernacle. The order of things here is rather
interesting: we have "oil for the light" (v.20) with a command that this light
is to burn throughout their generations (v.21).
Chapters 28 and 29. These two chapters are devoted to the functionaries,
first how the priests are to wear the holy garments and secondly how they
are to be inducted into their sacred office. At the end of chapter 29 we
are instructed as to the second priestly duty: "This is what thou shalt offer
upon the altar" (v.38) with special attention given to "a continual burnt
offering throughout your generations" (v.42). Just as the description of
the priestly functions began with the maintenance of a perpetual light, so
it now ends with a command to maintain a perpetual offering. I am not sure
why they are placed in this order but make a suggestion that it may be because
the priests have a double function. They are to let the light of God shine
out to man, but they have also the function of bringing man to God. Perhaps
this is why on one side they are bracketed with the shining light and on
the other side with the continual offering: they shine out to man and they
usher man into God. The Scripture itself gives no explanation.
We then come to the key passage. Having described the tent and its contents,
the priests and their ministry, God reveals the purpose of it all: "There
I will meet with the children of Israel. The tent shall be sanctified by
my glory, and I will sanctify the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron and
his sons will I sanctify to minister to me in the priests' office, and I will
dwell among the children of Israel and I will be their God. And they shall
know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land
of Egypt in order that I might dwell among them" (vv.43-46). The Indwelling
God in the midst of His people is what redemption has as its purpose.
Chapter 30. This tells how the ministers and people are to be
prepared to approach God. We should notice that the movement is reversed.
Up to the end of the previous chapter God is moving out to His people, but
now the people are moving back to God. So we have the altar of incense (v.1)
which symbolises the prayers of the people, the laver of brass (v.18), the
provision for the continual cleansing of those who minister to God, the anointing
oil (v.25), which makes everything acceptable to God, and how to make the
incense (v.35). The key thought of this chapter is that of acceptation before
God. Prayer must rise up to Him, ministers must be clean and everything must
be made acceptable to Him by the anointing oil.
Chapter 31. Here we have described the workers who are to manufacture
and set up the Tabernacle, being endued with the Spirit of God for this sacred
Chapters 32-34. Here we meet with a dreadful shock. After all
that glory and the climax of God's declared purpose to live among His people,
what a blow to read of The Great Rebellion! Moses delays in coming down the
mountain, the people of God fall into the sin of impatience and prefer a god
which they can touch and see, and Aaron takes their gold and makes for them
[44/45] a golden calf. There has to be a visitation
from the holy God who is rightly angered by this fearful rebellion.
Chapters 35-40. It may seem that here we are being dragged all
over the same ground once more. May I say, though, that it is important to
watch out when the Bible seems to be boring, for it is never boring by accident.
If it says the same thing all over again it says it for a purpose, as we
shall see. So we are given again the details of the Tabernacle. This one
thing we can learn, and that is God's requirement that everything should be
exactly as He first ordered. John Calvin's words that "worship must be conformable
to the will of God as its unerring standard" could be written as a motto
over these chapters. The key thought in worship is not what man finds helpful,
nor what this group or that has found traditional, but what God has commanded.
Worship must conform to the will of God.
We now come to the climax of the whole matter: "Then the cloud covered
the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And
Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting because the cloud abode
thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (v.34). We first
met the glory of the Lord in a tiny, isolated bush in the desert (3:2).
Then we met the glory of the Lord when we came to Mount Sinai and saw a
whole mountain blazing up into the heart of heaven, but it was a glory that
was both majestic and remote, for the people were not allowed to climb that
mountain. Here, however, is the climax; here is the central lesson which
God would have us learn: the glory of the Living God, superlatively expressed,
as He comes to live in the midst of His people. Not remote, as in the bush;
not majestic and far off, as in the mountain; but near at hand, dwelling
in the midst of His redeemed people. Here, then, is the passage laid out
before us. Now we must retrace our steps and seek to find what God may teach
us out of this portion of His Word.
1. The Tabernacle was designed by God to perpetuate the covenant relationship
between Himself and His people.
I want to try to make clear to you the perpetuity of the covenant by
saying three separate things, namely that the Tabernacle perpetuates, intensifies
and completes Mount Sinai.
i. The Tabernacle perpetuates Mount Sinai
As we saw, Mount Sinai is not to be identified exclusively with what
John Newton calls "The law's loud thunder". At Mount Sinai God did speak
His law for the guidance and direction of His redeemed people, but there
was more than that. Mount Sinai was the fulfilment of half the covenant
promise: "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God" (Exodus
6:7). As we saw at the end of the last study, this is such a permanent relationship
that it was set up in stone: "Moses built an altar and put twelve pillars
round it" (24:4). That permanent relationship was sealed by the blood of
the covenant. The blood was dashed upon the altar, signifying the fact that
the blood of the lamb takes away the wrath of God; and the blood was sprinkled
upon the consecrated people, signifying the fact that as they walk the life
of obedience they are sheltered by the blood of the lamb. Now, as they leave
Mount Sinai, the Tabernacle perpetuates that relationship. At Sinai they
saw the appearance of the glory of the Lord like a devouring fire, and now
as they move forward, the cloud covers the tent of meeting and the glory of
the Lord fills the Tabernacle. The glory of the Lord is now in their midst.
That relationship goes on.
ii. The Tabernacle intensifies Mount Sinai
Moses was able to enter into the glory of the cloud on the mount (24:18),
but when the glory filled the Tabernacle "Moses was not able to enter" (40:35).
It seems that the glory of God dwelling in the Tabernacle is an intenser
glory, a fuller presence of God, than upon the mountain-top. Thus God says
to us that what He showed the people on the mountain-top is not a greater
experience which recedes into the past; the people of God are not called upon
and never will be called upon to live in the fading afterglow of a great experience.
They are called to walk on with God into a greater experience, which He enables
as He comes to live and dwell with them.
Perhaps this calls for just one peep into the book of Leviticus. Exodus
finishes with Moses not able to enter into the Tabernacle. But that is not
what God desires. His dissatisfaction with this state of affairs is shown
if we ignore the division of the books and read on: "And the Lord called
unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying, Speak unto
the children of Israel, and say unto them, When [45/46]
any man of you offereth an oblation unto the Lord ..." (Leviticus 1:1-2).
Now the word "oblation" means "to come near". When anyone of the children
of Israel wishes to bring near that which is to be brought near, the holy
God makes it possible for him to come near into the presence of His glory.
So if we were to follow on into the book of Leviticus we would find that
it speaks to us of fellowship with the Welcoming God. Through the blood of
the covenant God now welcomes His people into His presence. So the Tabernacle
intensifies Mount Sinai.
iii. The Tabernacle completes Mount Sinai
There at Sinai one half of the covenant promise was: "I will take you
to Me for a people" but the other half was: "I will be to you a God". This
is a two-way arrangement, the people being brought to God and His coming
to them in this capacity. It is the Tabernacle, therefore, that brings the
covenant scheme to its climax, going beyond even the glory that was experienced
at the mountain, going beyond even that which was set up in the stone pillars,
to actualise that which was there prefigured -- God coming to dwell in the
midst of His redeemed, to prove Himself to be their God. The Tabernacle is
the climax: "They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them
forth out of the land of Egypt in order that I might dwell among them". Since
the Tabernacle is mobile, this relationship goes on with a pilgrim people.
Mount Sinai, with its altar and its stone pillars, disappears over the horizon,
but the Tabernacle goes on. There is a Pilgrim God for a pilgrim people.
2. The indwelling is a product of the mind, will and purpose of God.
Throughout all these complex details of the Tabernacle, there is one
continuing story line, one truth that binds the whole together: "There I
will meet with thee and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat,
from between the cherubim which are upon the ark of testimony" (25:22).
Did they ask Him to come? No, not at all. Could they have compelled Him
to come? Certainly not! Why, then, has He come? Because it is His will to
do so. We have to keep coming back to this assertion: "There I will meet
with the children of Israel. The tent shall be sanctified by my glory" (29:43).
God says it. The only compulsion put upon Him was that of His own nature.
The whole idea of the indwelling God is a product of the mind and will of
i. The love of God
As we explore the dimensions of the reliability of this truth we find
first of all that the indwelling arises out of the love of God. Right in
the centre of the passage on the Great Rebellion, we read these surprising
words: "Thou shalt worship no other God, for the Lord whose name is Jealous
is a jealous God ..." (34:14). The heart of man is potentially fickle, so
the redeemed need to be warned against going after other gods. This is just
as true in the New Testament as in the Old: "My little children, keep yourselves
from idols" (1 John 5:21). Notwithstanding all the glory that had been revealed
to them, the people of God had to be warned lest they go awhoring after other
gods. The redeeming love in the blood of the lamb, the caring love of the
pilgrimage journey to Sinai, the majestic holiness of God at that mount,
still leave them capable of being enticed away. Man's heart is fickle, but
there is no such fickleness in his God.
He told Moses that His name of Yahweh is His name for ever. There is
no change in Him. This, then, is the same Yahweh whose name -- that is to
say, whose inmost nature -- is Jealous. What a name for God! Pure jealousy
in burning, passionate consistency. We have degraded the idea of jealousy
by confusing it with possessiveness, as we sinners are bound to do. God's
jealousy, however, is pure love, which means that He has a burning, passionate
consistency with regard to us.
ii. The perseverance of God
If we look back again over the chapters 25 to 31 concerning the pattern
of the structure, then 32 to 34, the story of the Great Rebellion and then
come back to the final section 35 to 40 which resumes the story of the building
of the Tabernacle, we are impressed with the perseverance of God. He is so
determined to dwell among His people that even that dreadful rebellion could
not deter Him. This is the second lesson to be learned from that tedious
repetition of the details of the building. At every moment God is saying to
His people, "See, this is what I planned to do, and this is precisely what
I have done. The fact that you proved rebels cannot deflect Me off course".
Not even the sin of God's people can turn Him away from His purposes. He just
goes on persevering. [46/47]
iii. The gentle consistency of God
Perseverance means that God goes on until He gets His own way, but consistency
means that He always acts in accordance with His own nature. Here is the
root and ground of our assurance. We belong to a changeless God. This proved
the basis of Moses' appeal on behalf of the people. "The Lord spake to Moses
saying, Go, get thee down, for thy people which thou broughtest up out of
the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves" (32:7). Moses, for once, disobeys.
He does not go down: he stays to pray. Now what did he say to God? First he
appealed to God's consistency as the people's Redeemer: "Why is Your wrath
hot against Your people whom You have brought forth out of the land of Egypt?"
(32:11). Secondly he appealed to God's consistency regarding His own name:
"Wherefore should the Egyptians say, For evil did He bring them forth?" (32:12).
He urged God to be mindful of His own name and reputation. "What, then,"
says Moses, "would the Egyptians think of You when they find that the Redeemer
has after all turned out to be a Destroyer?" Thirdly Moses appealed to God's
consistency regarding His word of promise: "Remember Abraham, Isaac and
Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self" (32:13). "You
do not speak idle words," Moses argued, "You swore this on the basis of
what You are. Your good name is involved." So it was that Moses was able
to base his prayer on the matter of God's consistency, reminding God that
He could not go back on His work of redemption, He could not go back on
the revelation of His name and He could not go back upon the word of His
promise. Moses was quite right. This was something that God simply could
not do. So we read that "the Lord repented of the evil which he had said
he would do unto his people" (32:14). He could not do it for He is a consistent
God put a temptation in Moses' way by speaking to him of "Your people"
(v.7). "Your people," says God, "just look at them, your people!" Moses
might well have repudiated them. How easy would it have been for him to
reply: "They are not my people. They are not my responsibility!" God added
to the temptation by offering to have done with that nation and make a great
nation from Moses' family. In this way He offered Moses an opportunity to
seek his own personal glory, but this Moses at once set aside and even offered
his own life for the people of God and their salvation: "Yet now, if thou
wilt forgive their sin ... and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book
of life" (v.32).
As we read on in the story, we learn that Moses never ceased to intercede
on behalf of God's people. They had forfeited their right to have that holy
God in their midst, and their rebellion was exposed when the Lord announced
that He could no longer go with them. Moses, however, could not accept this.
We read that he "used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp" (33:7).
It was not the Tabernacle, but was pitched well away from the camp and was
called the "tent of meeting". The whole Tabernacle project was in suspense
because of the people's rebellion, but Moses kept the matter alive by putting
up a little "mini-tent" and calling it by the same name as the great tent.
In His marvellous grace the Lord came right down to Moses in his little tent
and met with him there. So we read: "the people saw the pillar of cloud stand
at the door of the tent ... and the Lord spake to Moses face to face" (v.10)
We are told what they talked about, for Moses only had one topic of conversation,
which was an appeal for God to continue with His people. Moses never stopped
interceding over this one point. "You must come up with us," he pleaded,
"if Your presence does not go up with us, then don't let us move on at all."
He does not stop until he wins back from God the promise of His continued
presence as they move on together. This reaches a climax when Moses has a
private revelation of God's glory, and the name of God is proclaimed before
him: "The LORD, the LORD, a God full of compassion, gracious, slow to anger,
plenteous in mercy." Moses, a supreme opportunist, leaps in at this, knowing
that if God is like that there is hope after all. "Moses made haste and bowed
his head to the earth and worshipped, and said, If now I have found grace
in thy sight, O Lord, let the Sovereign One, I pray thee, go in the midst
of us" (34:9). God's gracious reply was, "All right, Moses! You win! I have
made a covenant, and I will not leave you" (v.10).
So we see how God is acting in accordance with His own nature. He goes
with them because it belongs to His nature to be a God who pardons iniquity,
One who maintains His holiness and [47/48] yet will
live and move in the midst of sinners. What a precious truth for us! We
may rely on the divine indwelling because it is the purpose of God's own
heart. He planned it and it is carried through by His love, His perseverance
with us and His consistency with Himself. This is most clearly illustrated
by the fact that the man who became the high priest was Aaron, the Aaron
who led the rebellion.
"He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,
He has bought us and taught us a new song to sing:
Unto Him who has loved us and washed us from sin,
Unto Him be the glory for ever. Amen."
3. How do the people enjoy the presence of the Indwelling God?
We need to consider the other side of this truth. The fact of His indwelling
is a sure one but we must ask how the people of God enter into true enjoyment
of His indwelling.
i. By honouring His supremacy
At the beginning of this passage we noted that everything began with
the Holiest of All. That is to say that everything took its shape from the
holy place where God dwells. The Ark was not a piece of furniture in the
Tabernacle, but rather was the Tabernacle provided to house the Ark. Everything
took its shape from the inner sanctuary and everything moved out from there.
God determined the whole structure, and the one thought which runs throughout
these instructions is: "See that thou make them after the pattern which has
been showed thee" (25:40). The basic condition for the enjoyment of the divine
presence was that everything should be done as He commanded. Let one thing
fail to be as He desired it, and God could not come and dwell in the midst
of His people. The attention to detail may appear tedious to us but it is
a divine principle for us all. God will certainly dwell in the midst of His
people but if they are to enjoy the reality of His presence, then they must
be obedient to His will.
ii. By a life of consecration
The people of God only enjoy His presence as they embark deliberately
on a life of consecration: "Speak unto the children of Israel that they take
for me an offering ..." (25:2). The description shows that it was a very
costly offering. Now where did they, a slave people, get all these precious
things? They got them from the Egyptians before they left. The gold and the
silver and the rest all came under the sheltering blood on that Passover night
and were carried out under that blood from the land of Egypt. It was only
because they were a redeemed people that they possessed these things. So
we see that Consecration means giving back to God what has become ours because
of the blood of the Lamb.
Consecration is also a deliberate entering into the meaning of that blood
in a personal way. The priests were those who chiefly enjoyed the tabernacling
presence of God, for they were busy about the Tabernacle all the day, and
they did so by virtue of an experience of the benefit of the blood of the
covenant. The essence of their consecration to the duties and the privileges
of their holy task was based on a sin offering (29:14), a burnt offering
(29:18) and peace offerings (29:28). Until those offerings were made they
could not enjoy the presence of God. Priests though they were, they had to
enter into the benefit of the shed blood if they were to enjoy God's presence.
They had to look at the blood of the sin offering, and say, "Yes, for me that
blood is shed. My sins were laid upon the Iamb of God". They had to look
upon the blood of the burnt offering, and say, "Yes, that offering secures
my consecration. That blood has been put upon the tip of my ear and the thumb
of my hand and the toe of my foot, in token of the fact that it consecrates
to God my mind, my actions and the direction in life's walk". They had to
recognise that the blood of the peace offering expressed the resultant fellowship
between man and God, and looking at the blood of that peace offering, they
could say, "Thank God that I, even I, can enter into fellowship with God".
These offerings represent the total blood of the covenant and to us they
speak of that precious blood which cleanses us from all sin, that has achieved
for us a consecrated status before God and that has provided us with a perpetual
basis of intimate fellowship with Him. "This is my blood of the new covenant,"
said Jesus. So not just as priests, but as high priests, we are able to enter
into that Most Holy Place of All, "through the veil, that is to say, his
flesh" (Hebrews 10:20).
We must do this. We must embark quite deliberately on a life of consecration,
giving back to Him all that is ours through the blood [48/49]
of the Lamb, and entering into the virtues of that blood by simple faith.
For those men in far off Sinai, Aaron and his sons, the way of salvation
was that of simple faith. The blood was shed; concerning that blood God said,
"This blood is your way of forgiveness and access", and they replied, "We
will accept the promise of God" and showed their faith in what God has said
by laying their hands upon the sin offering to nominate it as a personal
substitute. We must do the same. Simple faith is the way of salvation right
through the Bible. All the promises of Calvary are implicit in Exodus 12,
in Exodus 24 and in the book of Leviticus. The way of salvation is identical
through the whole of Scripture.
iii. By worshipping before the Ark
This is the third condition for enjoying God's presence. God put this
first. This is the thing which He showed to be of supreme importance -- the
Ark. In principle this was what every Israelite worshipper did. The Ark
expressed what God is. Inside it there was the holy law, the expression of
the innermost nature of the holy God. The Ark also declared what God has
done. There above it, bending inwards, face downwards, and of one piece with
the Ark there were the cherubim. In Genesis 3 we read of these cherubim for
the first time. There they carried a sword and were on constant watch to
guard the presence of God from sinful intrusion. On the Ark, however, the
sword had been taken away and their eyes no longer roved to search out intruders
but gazed with fixed intensity upon the shed blood. The blood occupies their
whole vision. God has done a new thing. He has found a way whereby His wrath
has been quenched and communion established. The adoring gaze of heaven
is fixed for all eternity upon a Lamb as it had been slain.
For those who worshipped before it, the Ark not only expressed God's
nature and declared His redemption work, it also showed what God requires.
If we ask what He requires of us who now move forward in our pilgrimage,
the answer is twofold: He requires us to abide in fellowship with Him by
the constant efficacy of the blood of Christ and also to recognise that
we have been called to holiness. So we are to go on our way. The vision
is not to recede; it must intensify. We must go on our way in faith and obedience,
living always very near to the cross. If we do this we will discover that
we too are moving in "the goings of God".
THE IMPORTANCE AND VALUE OF GOD-GIVEN VISION
"Come hither, I will show thee ..." (Revelation 21:9)
AT times of crisis in the Church's history there has always been one
factor which has been decisive; that is, the presence or absence of God-given
vision. Again and again, such vision has been, by its absence, the cause
of calamity and disaster; or, by its presence, the turning point for good
or ill, according to the attitude taken to it. God has many times reacted
to either actual or threatening tragedy by the presentation of a new vision:
new, so far as His people were concerned.
The need and importance of such vision is found in its various features.
In the first place:
IT IS CONCRETE WITH GOD
Such vision is something which has existed with God in clear-cut definition
in the eternal counsels from the beginning. It is not something abstract
or nebulous, something that is what people term 'visionary' or mystical. It
is quite definite, clear and real in the mind and intention of God. God-given
vision is not something subsequent to eventualities, an afterthought because
of things having arisen unexpectedly; a kind of alternative to what God originally
meant. It is not a substitute for His original plan. It is not an emergency
expedient because of a [49/50] situation unforeseen.
God-given vision has its roots outside of time and circumstance, eventualities,
contingencies or emergencies. All those things have been already taken account
of, and have -- so to speak -- been swallowed up in the vision of God.
To be brought into such vision is to be brought on to a ground of confidence
and assurance when the sands seem to be sinking and everything giving way.
This, surely, is of no little importance and value. Then again:
IT IS COMPREHENSIVE
Things, whether they be good or whether they be evil, are not ends in
themselves. They are either embodied in or overcome by the vision. Under
the sovereign government of the Spirit of God all things are made to serve
that purpose which is the substance of God's vision. That is just the significance
of the words so familiar and so often used about all things working together
for good (Romans 8:28). We so rarely see them in their setting, and stop short
of the full import. We just say: "All things work together for good ..."
and stop there. The context has two aspects. Lives wholly under the Holy
Spirit's government are in view, and "His purpose" is governing. Unless these
two things are implicit, all things do not work together for good!
Given that being "called to his purpose" we, in response, are lovers of God,
then all things are the sphere of His sovereignty which makes them work together
for good. Purpose governs all, and the purpose is the substance of God-given
vision. It therefore requires a vision of God's purpose in greater fullness,
not in part. The purpose comprehends all parts. No phase or part is an end
in itself. One wheel of a machine has no adequate meaning in itself. There
lacks a real motive if all the other parts are not in view. We must not be
too obsessed or taken up with the part or the phase. If we are, the whole
becomes bound up with that phase so far as we are concerned, and we see no
more. This may put us completely out of commission if any one phase has served
God's purpose and He is now moving on. Sufficient motive demands sufficient
vision, and we must see much more than that which is immediately before our
eyes. Then, further still:
IT IS CONSTANTLY ENLARGING
It is very important to remember that God-given vision is never given
in completeness at any one time. This is something borne out by an abundance
of Scriptural evidence and instances. Such vision is always subject to enlargement.
It will always be developed and fulfilled through new phases. This is a law
in nature, and nature embodies spiritual principles.
The means employed by God at one time may -- and very likely will --
pass or be changed. In the sovereign order of God one particular phase,
method or means will pass out, though greatly used and blessed so far. This
does not involve a change of vision (unless it is ours and not God's)
but an enlargement of vision. With God all that He uses and blesses, however
wonderfully, is only relative and not final or ultimate. Therefore we must
not cling to what has been, and regard that as the form for all time. So often
this has been a most disastrous attitude of mind, and has resulted in God
having to go on with His full purpose in other directions and by other means,
and leave that fixed thing behind to serve a much lesser purpose than He
wanted with it. Eventually it has spiritually died, although perhaps
carried on by human effort and organisation. It just lives on its past and
IT ALWAYS MOVES UPWARD
In its first apprehension it seems to have such immediate, temporal and
earthly significance. The implications of any movement of God are not always
recognised at the beginning, but if we go on with Him we shall find that
much that is done here and is of time is, and has to be, left behind. The
spiritual and the heavenly is pressing for a larger place and becoming absolutely
imperative to the very life of the instrumentality and those concerned. It
is spontaneous, and just happens. We wake up to realise that we have moved
into a new realm or position, and no amount of additional earthly resource
can meet the need. It is not only something more that is demanded,
but something different. This is a crisis, and it will only be safely passed
if there is vision of God's ultimate object. This demands spiritual mindedness,
capacity for grasping heavenly things. Our world may be tumbling to pieces,
but the full and final outcome is what matters. The great pity is that so
many just cling to the old framework or partial vision. God presents His heavenly
pattern in greater fullness and demands adjustment. He does this with foreknowledge,
[50/51] knowing of a day which is imminent when this
vision alone will save. But because it seems revolutionary or unlike what
God has blessed in the past, it is rejected and put aside. Then the foreseen
day comes and all sorts of expedients have to be resorted to in an attempt
to preserve any values for God.
Abraham had a vision of "the city which hath foundations" and he looked
for it, but he never found it on earth. He found it at last in heaven, but
only as the climax of a walk which was ever upward. Ezekiel was another man
of vision. In his "visions of God" he saw the glory lifting from the earthly
scene and moving up and on, finally culminating in a spiritual house and
river which find their counterpart in the final revelation given to John.
It was heavenly, spiritual, universal. What a significant phrase that is about
the house seen by Ezekiel -- "there was an enlargement upward" (Ezekiel 41:7).
God-given vision is always heavenly and always moves away from the merely
temporal and earthly. To understand this is to be found in ways of vital
God never works for reduction or limitation, even though at times He
may seem to be doing so. When we are able to see as He sees we find that
what looks like trimming and reduction is really His way of leading to more
spiritual and heavenly enlargement. It was "the God of glory" who appeared
to Abraham (Acts 7:2). It was "the pattern in the heavenlies" that was shown
to Moses (Hebrews 8:5). It was "... above the firmament ... a throne ...
and upon the throne ... a man above upon it" that Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 1:26).
It was that "the heavens do rule" that Daniel apprehended (Daniel 4:26).
These are not only sovereign factors in government, but heavenly conceptions
in the nature of things.
These two things proceed as one. God in sovereignty will run the risk
of shattering, or allowing the shattering of much that He has used of scaffolding
or framework, in order to realise His fuller purpose. It is not that what
went before was wrong, but only that He now desires something more. We thank
God that ever He took Paul away from his ministry of travelling evangelism
and let him be shut up in prison, for it was then that the full glorious
vision and revelation of the "heavenlies" and the "eternal" was given. This
seemed to eclipse all the earthly and temporal. It was worth it. What might
have seemed a tragedy was not one after all. Satan may have had a lot to do
with Paul's imprisonment and with John's banishment to Patmos, but from these
troubles the Church has gained very much in heavenly values. The Holy Spirit
is the custodian of the full purpose of God and under His government the
Church and the individual believer will move ever on and up. Once again:
IT IS THE GROUND OF OUR TRAINING
When God does give vision it is that which becomes the occasion and basis
of our testing, our education and our discipline. This is far more important
to God than easy fulfilment and realisation; than that kind of facilitation
which is made possible by God's overruling. Look at the prophets! They were
men of vision. They stood in the gap between threatening disaster and the
survival of God's people. But what discipline they endured because of their
vision! It was their vision which brought all the inward as well as the outward
suffering upon them. Look again at Habakkuk. How he cried to God about the
situation and then took his position in relation to the vision. It is faith
and patience which are the virtues to be perfected, so he realised that
"the just shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). Similarly John, the man of
the Patmos visions, described himself as the brother "in ... the patience
of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9).
So we may find that although things may be taking a new and different
shape, the purpose of God has not changed. We may be presented with His vision
in new and more advanced aspects, but it is only what God originally purposed.
Can we adjust? Can we leave the things that are behind? Without raising
questions as to the right or wrong of what has been in the past, can we
go on and grow up as we move towards God's end? Finally:
IT MAKES MEN OF PRAYER
This is almost too obvious when we remember the men of the Bible. It
was vision which got them away from the trivial and petty. It required vision
to get prayer on to the major lines and to make it a matter of real travail.
What a bound and range those prophets had in prayer! But what immense issues
were precipitated. It is not our vision for God, but His vision in us that
will be dynamic, and that will determine lasting values.
I cannot conclude without pointing out that what could have been voluntary
with a minimum of loss has often had to be made compulsory with gains that
are less than they could have been. This is because we do not from time to
time stand back and in detachment wait upon God so that He can adjust and
enlarge our vision. Many a work which has mightily served the Lord and been
a great spiritual testimony has lost much of its glory and impact by becoming
an organised routine which has made no provision for the further light from
God which could have come from periods of retreat and waiting upon Him.
Perhaps the Lord would send more prophetic vision which would lead into
fuller spiritual values if we were not too busy to receive it. Without
renewed vision there can so easily be a leakage of spiritual power.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
11. REIGNING GRACE (Chapter 6:1-14)
LATER in this letter Paul says that he writes "the more boldly" (15:15).
There are those who may think that several things in the Roman letter are
too bold. For example, the statement about God justifying the ungodly (4:5)
and the one which affirms that "where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly"
(5:20). It is as if, with such statements as these, Paul leads us to the
brink of an abyss, leaving us dizzily wondering how we can avoid plunging
down into it. He can hardly mean that we can presumptuously continue in sin
in order to increase God's grace. Nor can he possibly mean that God does
not take sin so seriously in a Christian's life as in the life of an unbeliever.
What does he mean?
The apostle has considered this problem and now takes it up for a thorough
examination. Firstly, however, let us notice that he does not shield us from
sin nor attempt to save himself from being misunderstood by saying: "What
I mean by my bold assertion that 'the law came in beside, that the trespass
might abound' (5:20) is that the law leads every person without the Spirit
of God to despair, and so to realise that he needs the grace of God". This
is often heard in modern preaching, where care is taken to stress that in
the case of those who are justified and have the Spirit, the law acts as
a barrier against temptation and a spur to make the effort to fulfil it now
that they have the Spirit's aid.
Paul says the exact opposite, denying that the law has any positive effect
on a man just because he is now justified and has the Spirit of God. That
it cannot operate as a barrier against sin seems evident: "Sin shall not
have dominion over you; for ye are not under law, but under grace"
(6:14). Paul is far "bolder" than many earnest Christians, who dare not follow
him so far, fearing that if the law does not govern in the life of the Christian,
the result will be nothing less than laxity, superficiality and lukewarmness.
In the Galatian letter Paul treats the same problem and positively rejects
the thought that in the Christian's life the law can have the advantage of
a sanctifying influence.
What safeguard against sin do we have then? Before we answer this question
we must notice that Paul does not stress any difference between the guilt
of sin and the power of sin, a difference which dominates a certain
form of teaching on sanctification. Nowhere, in the Roman letter nor anywhere
else, is such a distinction made. Paul does not teach that once justification
has set us free from the guilt of sin, then it also makes it possible for
us to become free from its power. How many Christians have been confused
and stumbled through such preaching which is really a mixture of gospel
(you are free from the guilt of sin) and law (you can find freedom
from the power of sin by obeying certain legal requirements). Such teaching
lacks saving and delivering power.
THE apostle does not say: "Since you have now received the Spirit of
God, you are able to fulfil the law. Now make every effort to do so by the
power of the Spirit, and then you will free yourself from the power of sin!"
What he does say is: "We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?"
It sounds like an outburst of spontaneous surprise. Is it more than just
an outburst? Or has it some connection with [52/53]
what has gone before? Clearly it is not just a sudden interjection, but
is closely connected with his previous arguments given in 5:12-21. There he
affirmed that the fate of the natural man is bound up with Adam, whereas the
destiny of the justified is bound up with Christ. That which happened to
Christ as our Head, has now happened to us. He died to sin, therefore we
also died to sin. As previously emphasised, sin is a power which came into
the world by one man and rules us all. It sought to exercise its dominion
over Christ too, but was completely defeated. When the Lord Jesus died, sin's
power was finally broken and by His resurrection there was heralded an entirely
new era with an entirely new human race, who are not under the dominion
of sin. It is this basic fact upon which Paul now builds his argument. That
the power of sin is broken is due wholly and completely to the work of God
in Christ Jesus. It is not our job to break this power or even to help to
do so. This has happened already, for Christ has done it.
And we are one with Christ! We are members of His body, for in one Spirit
we have been baptised into that body (1 Corinthians 12:13). This surely means
that, just as that which happened to Adam includes all those who are in
Adam, so does that which happened to Christ include all of us who are His.
His death to sin is our death. His resurrection to an entirely new life is
our resurrection. Baptism vividly illustrates this very truth. "Or are ye
ignorant that all we who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into
his death?" By this Paul does not mean that we were baptised in order that
we might die, as though it had not yet happened, but rather that we testified
by baptism of that which had already taken place. Baptism is not a consecration
unto death, but a proclamation of the death which has already occurred.
Therefore we read further: "We were buried therefore with him through baptism
into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory
of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (v.4). We could
only be buried if we were already dead, and we can only walk again if something
miraculous has happened to us to raise us up again. In no sense can Paul's
words be interpreted as a mere exhortation to try to be better and live differently
by remembering Christ's resurrection. It is not so much what we ought to
do but the wonderful reality of what has happened to us. By the grace of
God we are one with Christ, we have been brought into an entirely new life
where the power of sin is broken.
It is clear that the apostle has in mind the course of the baptismal
procedure. When the candidate for baptism is immersed under water, he shows
that he is buried with Christ. When he is lifted up, this represents his
rising to that newness of life where the power of sin is broken. He speaks
of being "united with him" because he still has Adam and Christ as the background
of his thinking. We were strangers to Christ, outside of Him, but have now
become members of His body, that is, united with Him. Baptism proclaims that
we are united with Him in His death ("a death like His" -- Danish),
and that we are united with Him in His resurrection ("by a resurrection like
His" -- Danish).
THIS is something that we know (v.6). The apostle is enunciating an undeniable
fact, an incontestable truth, an historic event, namely that our old man
was crucified with Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians
2:20). It has no more to do with mysticism than our share in Adam's fall has
anything mystical about it. It has nothing to do with our feelings: it is
a liberating fact. When our old man was crucified with Christ, the body of
sin lost its power. This is the work of God in Christ Jesus for us and with
us, and because of it we are no longer the slaves of sin. By the death and
resurrection of Christ we have been brought out of our relationship to the
body of sin and its power and brought into the body of Christ under the dominion
of obedience. This is not the result of some "consecration" from our side
but is the effect of God's work of redemption. It is, hard to understand how
I, who live nearly two thousand years after Christ, can be a partaker in
His death and resurrection in practical terms. I know, however, that although
I live very much longer after Adam, I am definitely involved in his fall and
condemnation. In neither case does the time-lag make any difference to our
PAUL does not seem to think that this is hard to understand. By the simple
assertion that we know, he speaks categorically about the matter and does
not attempt any further explanation. This is because, as we have already
[53/54] remarked, he does not accept our modern individualistic
view of the race, but regards mankind as a collective whole, a fellowship,
a body with Adam as its head. So it is that he is able to pursue consistently
the thought that what happens to the head, happens also to the body. This,
to him, needs no explaining and admits of no argument. It is God who has put
us into Christ with these consequently wonderful results, and that is something
much greater than just our bringing Christ into our affairs.
Death is the boundary of sin. Sin's dominion cannot reach beyond that.
"For he that hath died is justified from sin" (v.7). What more can sin demand
or do? Its final demand is that he who sins must die. When that demand is
fulfilled then he who has died is freed from sin. It has nothing more to
do with him. On the positive side, though, the situation is that "if we died
with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him", that is, live
as members of His body, in His world, in His eternal age, where sin and death
exercise no dominion.
Here it is well to be reminded that Paul is all the time speaking of
sin as a power, a ruler, under which all who are not in Christ have to serve
as helpless slaves. The opening question was whether we were to continue in
sin, that is, remain in its sphere of power. We are now told that we should
no longer be in bondage to sin (v.6) and then in the rest of this section
the apostle speaks of sin as a reigning power which we no longer serve (vv.12
& 14). It can hardly be more clearly emphasised that the Bible regards
sin not only as a moral flaw of weakness but as a positive tyrant. The only
deliverance is by the breaking of the tyrant's power and releasing its slaves,
which is precisely what Christ has done. Death no longer has dominion over
Him, for He has died once and for all (v.10) and we have died with Him "away
from sin" (Danish), that is, away from the sphere of its power. Since
He now lives unto God we who are in Him may reckon ourselves to be alive
unto God in Christ Jesus (v.11). This is the fact. It is not because we reckon
it that it becomes a fact, but the opposite; because it is so, we reckon
on it. This is the first time in the Roman letter that we meet the apostle's
famous expression, "in Christ", an expression which emphasises that Christ
is the Head of a new humanity, that He now has a new body of which all true
believers are living members.
IT might be thought that there is no more to be said. If we are freed
from the power of sin, surely we are free from all danger. Paul however does
not conclude the section in this way. It is true that we are freed from
the power of sin, but sin is not dead. Far from it. It will still seek to
catch us in its net. A conquered and dethroned tyrant may very well seek to
regain his power. For this very reason the apostle tells those who have died
to sin and become alive to God not to let sin reign in their mortal bodies
(v.12). His words are not laying a new burden upon us, as might perhaps seem.
They subtract nothing from the mighty message that we have been set free
from the dominion of sin. They do not refer us back to ourselves as though
everything now depended upon our uprightness and determination. If it were
so we would have no earthly chance of escaping from the domination of sin
His intention is not to leave it to us to make it work: it is just the
opposite. Sin has no dominion over us. Sin is defeated. It is dethroned.
It was not we but Christ who defeated it, so we may be sure that the victory
is perfect and final. We who belong to Christ are no longer its slaves,
therefore we act quite differently in relation to it for whom the Son makes
free is free indeed (John 8:36). Now, then, we are able to do what we could
never do before, that is, present ourselves to God and our members as instruments
of righteousness unto Him. In this positive act, which liberty in Christ
enables us to do, we find the negative virtue of not allowing sin to reign
in our mortal bodies. The old man could do no other than present himself
as an instrument of sin, for he was its slave. We are freed so that we can
present ourselves as instruments unto God.
"For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under law,
but under grace" (v.14). With these "bold" words Paul closes this part of
the discussion about the possibility of his consistent preaching of grace
leading to laxity of life. The contrary is true. Consistent preaching of
grace contains the assurance that sin shall not have dominion in the life,
for the dominion of grace is the same as the dominion of Christ. He has become
our only Lord. The law does not protect the Christian from sin. For this
reason Paul does not dilute his preaching of grace, but presses it home
consistently and boldly without allowing himself to be forced back on to
the law as a possible protection against law-breaking. [54/55]
Few have dared to follow him. The gospel has always been and still remains
a mystery. Perhaps it is because Paul knows how difficult it is for the
religious person to understand the full meaning of grace that he devotes
the rest of this chapter to the same subject.
(To be continued)
CORPORATE TESTIMONY TO CHRIST
Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
NO isolated Christian can give a full testimony to Christ. Only the Church
in active function can do that. If we are now to consider the Church perhaps
the first thing to say is that the vastness of our theme is quite beyond
our powers of apprehension. I find the subject stressed and developed in the
Word of God to such a degree that I am daunted by the magnitude of my task.
In some ways I feel like the man in America who stood before the judge in
a court of law and was sentenced to 99 years of imprisonment. The man had
an acute problem in that he was already quite old. He turned to the judge
and said: 'Your Honour, I'll never finish it!' The judge looked at him quite
kindly and said: 'Well, go away and do as much as you can'. I am not in any
way under condemnation, but I have a like problem about the impossibility
of my task, and can only take up this profound Scripture in Ephesians and
make a beginning of expounding it. I will do so by making two appeals. The
first is that we consider the Mystery of the Church, and the second that
we consider the matter of Submission Within the Church.
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
There is no difficulty in persuading people at large in the world that
the Church is a mystery. To many it probably seems an irrelevant mystery.
Now of course that is very sad. It is even sadder when those who are within
the Church fail to have a Bible grasp of what that Church is intended to
mean. It is saddest of all, though, when their ignorance of the true nature
of the Church leads to behaviour which is not worthy of or in keeping with
their membership of it.
This passage makes it very clear that, in spite of divisions and differences,
the Church of God is one. This is certainly a mystery. We need God's help
if we are to begin to understand it. In verses 4 to 6 Paul mentions seven
facets of this tremendous truth. Some of these centre in the Holy Spirit,
others centre in the Lord Jesus Christ, while the last and consummating one
centres on God the Father. This tells me that the Church is Trinitarian.
What is more, it tells me that wherever within the Church you have an over-emphasis
on One of the Persons, with a consequent and inevitable de-emphasis on the
Others, you have an imbalance which is totally unbiblical.
Given, then, this basic relationship with the Trinity, what has Paul
to say about the Church?
1. "There is one body"
This phrase, "one body", makes it clear to me that the Church's constitution
is not organisational but spiritual. This is evident, for not every Christian
in the world is found in the same outward grouping. If the unity of the Church
is a divine fact, it can only be by virtue of its origination and not one
of organisation. Its unity is spiritual and not the result of any man-made
arrangement. Paul stressed to the Romans: "So we being many are one body".
Whatever we may feel about the various groupings, denominations and fellowships
within the Church, we are forced to face God's insistence that there is
only one body. What is more, we must agree that it is always and without
exception a tragedy when these groupings or loyalties to a denomination obscure
this glorious truth of the oneness of the body.
2. "There is one Spirit"
Matthew Henry has this comment: 'Two hearts in one body would be monstrous'.
Every human body has one heart, one heart only, which drives the life-giving
blood into every limb and artery of that body. And it is precisely in the
same way that the Church is empowered by one Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells
every Christian in the Church without preference, without favouritism and
without distinction. As [55/56] there is one body,
so there is one Spirit, and of course the key verse in the matter is: "For
we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks,
slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians
12:13). Could there be any clearer passage in all the pages of Scripture
about the unity, the essential oneness, of the Church than this which so dogmatically
asserts what is true of us all. Yet how often is it used by Satan to make
divisions. I doubt whether there is a greater tragedy in the Christian Church
today than that this wonderful verse, which so gloriously illuminates the
unity of all Christ's members, should be made an instrument for bringing
about some of the most tragic divisions among them.
3. "There is one hope"
The full phrase is: "There is one hope of your calling" which makes a
lovely link with the previous section for it is the Holy Spirit who seals
God's people for their inheritance (1:13-14). Paul describes the Holy Spirit
as the immediate deposit which guarantees the ultimate fulfilment. The word
"earnest" is one which is not used in this context nowadays, so we translate
it; "deposit", which is a conception familiar to us all. May I say in all
reverence that when our God puts down a deposit we may be absolutely sure
that He guarantees that in due course the balance will be forthcoming. This
is actually stated elsewhere: "He has put his seal upon us and given us his
Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:22). The hope of the
Christian's calling has reference to the redemption of his body which is for
all who are in Christ without distinction.
One might say that Bible spelling is most peculiar, for it spells out
the idea of hope in four letters: S-U-R-E! This may be a strange way of spelling
but that is precisely what is involved in Scriptural hope -- absolute certainty.
It means that since it is God who has laid down the deposit, final fulfilment
is absolutely sure. Every true Christian is united in this and shares the
promise that one day he will experience the redemption of the body and the
fullness of life in the presence of God. We all have the same hope.
4. "There is one Lord"
This phrase clearly speaks of the Lord Jesus. Later on in the same epistle
Paul tells us more specifically that Christ is "the head of the church" (5:23).
You would hardly think so at times. An objective observer, going into many
churches and noting their procedures, methods and politics, would regard
it as the most surprising revelation in the world to discover that the Boss
of the churches, the Head of this church, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
With so much of pomp and ceremony, human glory and display, there is
need for the Church to relearn one of the great truths which was preached
by John Collins at the time of the Great Ejectment: 'The Church's power
is not authoritative; it is only ministerial'. He did not mean ministerial
in any clerical or ecclesiastical sense, but in the Bible sense of service.
The power which the Church has is the power of ministering, of serving, under
the Lordship of Christ. The Church's great duty is not to legislate, but to
accept the legislation which God has already laid down, to give obedience
to Him who purchased her with His own blood and who alone has the right to
rule. A part of the mystery of the Church is that she has Christ as her sovereign
5. "There is one faith"
This follows on exactly and is confirmed in Paul's reminder to the Galatians:
"You are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of
you as were baptised into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew
nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female;
for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28). "All one in
Christ Jesus" is so often our watchword. We know it. We believe it. I wonder
if we really understand it. It is a bedrock truth of tremendous significance.
The word "one" is not primarily emphasis on unity but on equality. This is
obvious from the context. To say that as soon as you become a Christian you
are no longer a Jew would make nonsense. What God does say is that the fact
that you are Jew does not make you superior to the other man. He does not
suggest that you are no longer a free man, but He does most emphatically assert
that this gives you no spiritual superiority over the slave. It is not that
you are no longer a man, but that this fact in no way makes you superior
to a Christian woman. You are all equal in Christ. In the Christian Church
there is no third world and no second-class citizenship. At the cross there
is no room for complexes, superiority or inferiority, for the ground at the
[56/57] cross is absolutely level. White is no better
than coloured, young than old or vice versa. In terms of salvation
we are all equal in Christ Jesus. I gladly respect the superiority of my
brethren in matters of spiritual understanding and experience, but in one
respect I am equal to the best of them. My sin is covered by the same blood,
my trust is in the same Saviour, my Father is the same God, my Empowerer is
the same Spirit, my security has the same guarantee; my justification is
as unalterable as theirs and we are heading for the same home in glory.
Peter expresses this truth so beautifully. Here was the apostle Peter,
a great mountain of a man, deeply experienced in spiritual values, and yet
writing to anonymous and unimportant Christians, he addresses them as, "those
who have received a faith as precious as ours" (2 Peter 1:1). He writes to
people whom we will never know until we meet them in heaven, and says: "Your
faith is as effective as mine and as valuable as mine". Paul confirms this
attitude when, writing about Onesimus, who was not only a slave but a runaway
slave, he calls him a brother. Here was a man who was the lowest of the
low, a man whom people would not wish to touch with a sterilised barge-pole,
yet the great apostle described him as "a brother beloved". There is indeed
one holy faith.
6. "There is one baptism"
In Scripture baptism is the outward sign of an inward faith. It can perhaps
be described as the initiatory evidence of membership of Christ's Body. It
is, of course, possible to have salvation without baptism, as it is also
possible to have baptism without salvation, but clearly the Biblical norm
is both. To me the point being made here is not the method or mode of baptism
but the meaning of it. It allows of no distinction. The sign of our initiation
into fellowship is the same for all of us. James throws some light indirectly
on this by his illustration of wrong behaviour when a seat of honour was
provided for a rich man, while a poor one was told not to expect anything
like that but to be content with sitting on the floor. That was wrong discrimination
in the Church, when men were being received on a different level.
7. "There is one Father"
The full passage reads: "There is one God and Father of all, who is over
all, and through all, and in all". The word "all" is obviously limited by
its context; it refers to the Church and the true Christian. There is no
refuge here for those who falsely preach the universal fatherhood of God and
the universal brotherhood of man. That may have a basis in a creatorial consideration;
Paul did not dispute it with those who said it before him when he was preaching
to the Athenians. Here, however, he was not dealing with creation but with
redemption. It was in this connection that he pointed out that all blood-bought
Christians have the same God for their Father.
What rich treasures are contained in this one statement. In the Church
God is equally our Father. He is the Father of us all in terms of His providence,
of His care, of His sovereignty, of His provision, of the access we have
to Him and of the potential blessing we can receive from Him. God is the Father
of each and everyone of us without distinction. He is the Father of the merest
babe in Christ who is groping to get hold of the fundamentals of the faith,
and also of the spiritual giant who has walked with God for years. He is
Father of both these men, equally and without distinction. What a marvellous
wonder that is! As I have already said, the Church has no third world, no
second-class citizens and no despised minorities.
THE DISCIPLINE OF THE CHURCH
Our second consideration from this passage is the matter of Submission
within the Church. I used the word "submit" deliberately. It is often employed
in the New Testament, and especially in regard to relationships within the
Church. It is tremendously impressive to find the preponderance of stress
which is placed on the duty and privilege of submitting to one another.
Here such a call is hardly surprising, for the matter of our walk is
introduced by the word "therefore", which makes us look back to the preceding
verse at the end of chapter 3. "Unto him be the glory in the church." If
there is to be glory for Him in the Church, Paul argues, then you must lead
a life of lowliness and meekness. If God is going to be exalted in the Church,
then we must go out of our way to see that we are not exalted in it. If God
is to be exalted, then we must not seek an exalted position for ourselves.
Paul says that our life should be worthy of our calling. It is striking
how often the Bible reminds us that our calling and our conduct should go
hand in hand. In this passage the apostle mentions five aspects of this worthy
1. "With all lowliness"
That is where we must all begin. When a man gets too big for his boots
he gets too big for God's blessing. Surely it is impossible to consider
such a subject without turning to the next letter to read Paul's further
words: "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being
in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God,
but emptied himself ..." (Philippians 2:5-7). While not being casual or
careless in my choice of words, may I try to render this passage in the
simple comment that Jesus went out of His way to make Himself of no reputation?
The trouble with us is that we lose too much nervous energy trying rather
to create a reputation for ourselves.
At a conference of Christian workers a leading evangelist said to me,
'John, this life is a tremendous strain, isn't it?' I could agree with him
in part, but wanting to know just what he meant, I asked, 'In what way is
it a strain?' His startling but honest reply was, 'Because of the need to
be successful!' I had to confess that at times, and too often, it had been
true of me also that I have got into a tension because I felt the need to
be successful, of having the approbation of men. How easily we fall into the
temptation of wanting to carve out a reputation for ourselves! Jesus, however,
made Himself of no reputation -- He succeeded by submission. There would
be something like a revolution within our local churches if anything approaching
this spirit were to govern their members.
2. "and meekness"
The word used here is untranslatable, but perhaps the best rendering
we can find is: "strength under control". It implies the attitude of the
person who is prepared to forfeit his own rights in the interest of others.
This contrasts greatly with the tragedy in church-life when the self-assertive
insist on what they think or wish or claim to be. By nature we all have this
spirit, this frightening compulsion to prove that we are somebodys. Only
grace can deliver and transform us. In this matter Paul is an outstanding
example, for he writes: "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints,
was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches
of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). Preaching was his great occupation, and he did
it so well. To him it was about as important as breathing. Yet he described
it as a matter of pure grace, a free gift of God, attributing no merit of
any kind to him.
3. "with long suffering"
We could perhaps translate this as gentle patience with the mistakes,
the wrongdoings of others, and even over the injuries which they may cause
us. Sometimes we say of a person that he is a 'perfectionist'. That is fine,
for it means that he sets a very high standard for himself and even for others.
It is far from fine, though, if it means that when things go wrong in that
person's house even the cat has to run for shelter!
4. "forebearing one another in love"
This is also translatable as "enduring one another in love". It may be
that, in some cases, all we can do is to grin and bear it, for we are having
to deal with an almost impossible person. God knows very well that we are
not all of the same temperament and will never all hold the same views,
but He insists that we must make allowances in love for those who are not
like us. If necessary we must love our brother when we cannot feel any liking
5. "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit ..."
Why is this the last of the five aspects? Because it flows from all the
others. The alternative to this unity is found when Christians are proud
and assertive, impatient and lacking in love. Then the sparks fly! But when
Christians are humble, meek, patient, forebearing and loving, then there is
the "bond of peace".
My final point which I would wish carefully and earnestly to press is
that when the uncaring, cynical world outside sees more and more Christians
behaving in this way, then perhaps it will begin to take more seriously the
Church's testimony to Christ.
"Blest be the dear uniting love
That will not let us part;
Our bodies may far off remove,
We still are one in heart.
Joined in one Spirit to our Head,
Where He appoints we go,
And still in Jesus' footsteps tread,
And show His praise below.
Oh, may we ever walk with Him,
And nothing know beside;
Nothing desire, nothing esteem,
But Jesus crucified." [58/59]
GOD HAS SPOKEN AND IS SPEAKING
THERE are those who claim that God is dead, and they base this extraordinary
view on the apparent lack of response from the heavens to their calling.
Frequently, of course, such attempts to communicate with God are more in the
nature of a shout of challenge than a cry for help, but in any case there
is no answer, and the apparently logical conclusion is drawn that there is
no one at home. To such an approach the prophet Elijah would say, "Shout louder!
He may be pre-occupied with other responsibilities; he may have gone on a
journey, or he may even be sleeping!" Some even go on to inflict injury on
themselves, by blasphemous insult, in a vain attempt to attract His attention.
Under such an assault the gates of heaven do not even rattle, for the
attack falls short by a hundred million light years, and so it is not unreasonably
concluded that there is nobody there. If there were He would be bound to
answer such provocation. The idea of distance here is, of course, misleading.
To use radio terms -- the trouble is that the wrong frequency is being used,
and no amount of wattage will improve our communication if the frequency
selection is mistaken. The same applies to reception. Even the most undiscerning
radio-knob twiddler knows that a fractional alteration of the frequency will
lose or regain a powerful transmission.
THE Christian believes that God has spoken, and is speaking now, and
that man must take the time required to search the range until he discovers
the frequency on which God is transmitting. Not until he has found this
will communication begin. The air around us is full of voices, a babel of
radio communication, yet we hear nothing without the appropriate receptors
and a precise tuning.
The situation on Mount Carmel is graphically depicted: "And as midday
passed they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but
there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded" (1 Kings 18:29).
God was there, but in this case they were calling the wrong name. Will I
answer if it is not my name that is called?
The Christian knows the Name, for he himself is called by it, but as
he looks at the problem of communication with God, a subject on which many
are uneasy and uncertain in these stressful days, he must consider that the
question of precise tuning to the correct wavelength is of paramount importance.
God is speaking continuously, as the psalmist states: "The Mighty One, God
the Lord, speaks and summons the earth, from the rising of the sun to its
setting" (Psalm 50:1). He does not keep silence.
FROM the dawn of creation God began to speak, and He will continue to
do so until the end. From early morning until sunset God is dealing with
His creatures, and indeed His voice can be heard through the night also.
The creation itself speaks loudly and continuously for God, and the so-called
'scientific' explanation of the fact which excludes God from His own universe,
is simply a hiding place from that Voice, built by men who are not unable
to hear the Voice but who will not listen. Why will they not listen?
Because the Voice not only speaks out the truth, it summons man to
an accountability which is frankly alarming, and man is determined to prove
that the undeniable facts speak for themselves only and not for God, judging
that they say nothing intelligible or relevant to his daily life. But the
Voice continues to speak and man, having changed the wavelength, claims that
he can hear nothing. This, however, does not diminish his accountability.
AND what of believers, the people of God, the Church? is God not communicating?
I am sure that He is, continuously and in two distinct ways. First, by all
that He has already said and caused to be written for us. The commandments,
the truth, the Word of God, written down and placed in our hands, represent
the continuous speaking of God, His unceasing communication. It portrays
His own character and purposes, and His requirements of His people. While
such may appear to be a boring restatement of the obvious, yet Christians
will complain that God is silent, when their lives are in flagrant violation
of what God has already said in precise, unambiguous detail. The cause is
not always a deliberate and conscious [59/60] rejection
of God's instructions, but a gradual, almost imperceptible drift from the
true frequency. The result is that although the Word is read, the message
is distorted and indistinct.
Secondly, God speaks currently, through His servants. "Rising up early
and sending them," is the graphic phrase of the A. V. Here is the picture
of God's active, urgent communication with His people, through the written
and spoken ministry of the Word -- "sent forth" to accomplish a mission,
to bring a message from God. Sometimes no human agent is employed; God illumines
by His Spirit some part of the Word, and the message is conveyed vividly
and directly. Again, sadly the Christian is often out of tune, and fails
to receive the message so distinctly and specifically directed to him from
heaven. The parable of the Sower defines the ways in which the precious seed
can fail to arrive in good soil -- failure to pay attention, robbery by the
enemy, inadequate care over it, preoccupation with other things. The fault
is not with God. The Sower is constantly sowing; the Word is being sent forth
daily. The man who says that God is silent would be more precise if he confessed
that he himself hears nothing.
THERE are times when God is silent, refusing to communicate with those
who have already heard His instructions and refused to obey. He is longsuffering
and patient with us, but there comes a time when repetition of a message
which is consistently ignored or avoided becomes pointless, and to such an
attitude God falls silent. In many respects the silence of God speaks loudly
and clearly, and can be a more alarming experience than the Voice of rebuke
and condemnation. Such a complete unwillingness on God's part to communicate
with a man, I imagine to be relatively rare, for the Scripture is full of
evidence that the Lord is extra-ordinarily long suffering and patient with
us. Only the most flagrant and persistent disobedience would result in a complete
breakdown in communication. Wherever there is a little contrition of heart
and a rising desire to be right with Him, God is ready to lead the way to
IT is also true of course that although the presence of the Creator in
the universe causes reverberations which no man can fail to hear and feel,
these are but "the edges of His ways", and the Voice is in fact but a whisper,
"a sound of gentle stillness". For the man to hear the message he must not
only be tuned to the right frequency band -- he must also be at the right
place at the right time, and must have the quietness to hear. The Old Testament
prophets and men of God had often to wait for days, undisturbed, until the
Word of God came through to them. Waiting seemed to be an essential factor
in obtaining the message. No wonder, then, that in our day it seems so difficult
to hear that Word.
No consideration of God's communication with our world can omit the strange
and enigmatic statement that "God having spoken in the past by His prophets
has in these last days spoken in a Son" (Hebrews 1:1). Here is God's final
Word to the silent planet, His Logos, His means of communication,
the new and living Way, the Ladder up to heaven. This is the Message Himself.
God has spoken indeed, not only in sending a message, but Himself coming
in Christ to reveal Himself in all His grace and glory. This is the divine
way of reconciling to Himself the world that has for so long turned to Him
a deaf ear.
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
We would like readers to know that there will be no bound volumes of
the magazine for 1978. For various reasons it seems right to discontinue
the preparation of these volumes. We hope that it will mean a minimum of
inconvenience and that this notice is not too late to warn readers to retain
their loose copies if they wish to have the messages in permanent form.
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (13)
"(that is, to bring Christ down)"
"(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)"
IT was certainly Moses who wrote that the man that doeth the righteousness
which is of the law shall live thereby, but it was also Moses who gave this
comment on the righteousness which is of faith. Before we start blaming him
for the impossible standard set by his words: "Ye shall therefore keep my
statutes, and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live by them" (Leviticus
18:5), we should also notice that this other quotation about the righteousness
which is by faith was also spoken by Moses. He it was who provided Paul
with his encouraging words here quoted, beginning with "Say not in thy heart
...". The full passage reads: "This commandment which I command thee this
day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven,
that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto
us? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over
the sea for us, and bring it unto us? But the word is very nigh unto thee,
in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
THIS, then, is the gospel according to Moses. What does it say to us?
That Christ came down from heaven to earth without any assistance from us.
We could not climb up to bring Him down. We did not need to do so. He chose
to come down so that He could draw near to us in the fullness of His love.
The Word is very nigh to us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. Having come
down from heaven to seek sinners, and having been crucified for them and descended
into the very abyss for their salvation. He neither sought nor needed human
help to lift Him up again. He rose triumphantly from the dead, and now is
nearer to us in His resurrection even than He was in His incarnation. The
Saviour is neither too high for us nor too distant; He is very near to all
who call upon Him in truth. Let us leave the self-righteous to his ineffectual
struggles to find acceptance with God, and let us boldly claim as our very
own the Saviour who first came down from heaven and then went back there
that we might have hearts that believe unto righteousness and mouths that
confess unto salvation.
WE do not know if Moses had any idea that his words of encouragement
referred to the coming Christ. It may well be that he could not see beyond
the fact that God's Word is within easy reach of all humble believing hearts
who will receive and obey it. He certainly wanted the Israelites to know
that it is faith and not self-effort which is the proper response to God's
promises. In common with other prophets of old times, he enjoyed some clear
glimpses of the coming Saviour. He once had a shining face as the result
of such a vision. However he could hardly have foreseen what use the great
apostle would later make of his words.
THE original inspiration, though, was not from Moses but from the Holy
Spirit, and there can be no doubt but that He always had Christ in view,
not only when Paul wrote the words to the Romans but also when Moses spoke
them to the Israelites. We must not imagine that the apostle simply used
a quotation from Moses as a convenient confirmation of his argument, but
must appreciate that he was enabled to present us with the full meaning of
the inspired words, even if their original speaker, Moses, was not completely
aware of their significance.
FAITH does not have to climb up to heaven by its own efforts, but only
to rejoice that Christ has brought heaven down to us. Faith does not have
to attempt to plumb the depths of God's judgment on sin, for the Lord Jesus
has done that for us, and brought life and immortality to light through the
gospel. Not only Abraham but Moses also rejoiced at the prospect of seeing
what Jesus called "My day". These two parentheses remind us of the essential
unity of the Scriptures. Moses and Paul were not antagonists but workers
together in the gospel task of presenting God's Christ to needy men.
"GOD IS ABLE TO MAKE ALL GRACE ABOUND UNTO YOU;
THAT YE, HAVING ALWAYS ALL SUFFICIENCY IN EVERYTHING,
MAY ABOUND UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK."
2 Corinthians 9:8
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